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Distracted Driving: Cautions From a Virginia Car Accident Attorney

Talking on your cell phone — or another distraction while you’re driving — is very dangerous. Virginia car accident attorney Jeff Brooke explains what distracted driving is, how it affects your ability to drive, and why it is so dangerous.

What Is Distracted Driving?

Woman Texting While DrivingDistracted driving is anything that causes you to take hands off the wheel, eyes off the road, or even your mind off your responsibility to drive safely. Examples of distracted driving include:

  • Talking on a cell phone or other handheld device
  • Texting or navigating on a handheld device
  • Eating or drinking
  • Applying makeup and grooming
  • Navigating by reading a map or looking at a navigation system
  • Tending to children or pets
  • Talking to passengers
  • Adjusting a radio or other audio device
  • Watching a video
  • Reaching for a dropped phone or other item
  • Looking at an external object or person
  • Changing clothes
  • Any non-driving activity

What Happens When You Drive While Distracted?

A Virginia Tech study concluded that 80% of all accidents and 65% of all near-accidents in Virginia involved driver inattention within three seconds of the crash. Another study found that when people talk on a phone and drive at the same time, they are as impaired as driving intoxicated with a 0.08 blood-alcohol level. The Institute for Highway Safety found that a driver using a cell phone is four times more likely to be in an accident involving injury, and that hands-free phones are no safer.

Nearly everyone multi-tasks these days — or at least they think they do. Undoubtedly, you have seen drivers talking on a cell phone while sitting at a traffic light, failing to see the light turn from red to green. Even worse, you often see a phone-using driver traveling at a dangerously slow speed on a multi-lane highway, oblivious to honking horns, flashing lights, and cars flying by on both sides. Those common sights don't even take into account the staggering number of accidents, injuries, and deaths caused by drivers who are talking on the phone or distracted from driving by something else.

Research has proven that it is impossible for the brain to perform more than one task at a time. People think they are multi-tasking, because the brain switches from one task to the next quickly. But the fact is that reaction times are slower when the brain is attempting to do more than one thing at a time. The brain cannot focus on both tasks 100%.

A university study revealed that distracted driving affects traffic flow and creates dangerous clusters of vehicles that result in serious accidents. The following behaviors were directly linked to distracted driving:

  • Distracted drivers are 20% less likely to change lanes.
  • Phone-using drivers tend to look straight ahead, pay less attention to what’s going on around them, and change lanes dangerously or swerve into other lanes.
  • Phone-using drivers are up to 50 seconds slower in changing lanes behind a slower moving vehicle.
  • Distracted drivers have 24% more variation in following distance and drive slower than attentive drivers.

In addition, studies have demonstrated a cognitive phenomenon that is now being linked to distracted driving. It’s called inattentional blindness or perceptional blindness. In simple terms, even when people think they are multi-tasking, they actually can focus on only one object in their perceptual field. When something else appears unexpectedly, whether it is an object, person, or event, the distracted person is literally unable to see it.

Inattentional blindness can occur when you are driving: When your brain is focused on talking on the phone or doing something else, you actually may not even see an object that suddenly appears in front of you. Many accidents — and many deaths — occur for that very reason. Phone-using drivers often hit pedestrians or bicyclists, a car in front that suddenly stops or slows down quickly, or a truck that suddenly changes lanes. After the accident, the frequent explanation the driver offers is that he or she never saw the person or vehicle. Perceptual blindness may be the explanation. However, in Virginia, where a driver is responsible for injuries and damage when that driver causes an car accident, perceptual blindness does not relieve the driver of legal liability if cell phone use or other distracted driving causes an accident.

If you are seriously injured in an accident that was caused by a distracted driver, you should contact a Virginia car accident attorney as soon as possible. When a distracted driver causes an accident, that person is responsible for the injuries and damages that result.

Virginia Has Laws on Distracted Driving

As in Virginia, 80% of accidents nationwide are related to distracted driving. Texting or otherwise using a hand-held device while driving is by far the most dangerous form of distracted driving. If a driver texts or emails and drives, or otherwise becomes distracted by a hand-held device, the driver is 23 times more likely to be in an accident.

Texting while driving is illegal in Virginia. State law specifically provides that texting and emailing — whether sending, receiving, or reading — are banned for all drivers statewide. It is a primary offense. That means you can be pulled over and given a ticket for texting or emailing. While in some states, it is a secondary offense — and it was in Virginia until 2013 — that is no longer the case here. Fines were substantially increased when it became a primary offense.

In addition, Virginia novice drivers, those under age 18, are banned from all cell phone use, both hand-held and hands-free. This offense is still secondary, so police officers need to witness another violation before they can issue a distracted driving citation to a novice driver based on cell phone use.

Cell phone use for school bus drivers in Virginia is also banned. Unlike the ban for novice drivers, enforcement for school bus drivers is primary and does not require a law enforcement officer to witness another offense.

When Do You Need to Talk With a Virginia Car Accident Attorney?

If you’ve been seriously injured in an accident in Virginia that was caused by someone else, or if a loved one has been injured or died in a Virginia accident that was another person’s fault, you should talk with a Virginia car accident attorney — even before you talk with any insurance adjusters. The Jeff Brooke Team is here to help you and your family. Contact us by phone at (757) 552-6055 or by using our online contact form.

Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm helps clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.

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